I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that my opinion of Justin Bieber hasn’t exactly been constant. When he rose to prominence as a young star from Canada, to me he was the annoying guy with the annoying voice who annoyingly all the girls I knew seemed to adore. As he and I both aged he became the spoiled rich kid, embodying the stereotypes of a pop star diva who thinks the world should bow to their every whimsical desire, and frustratingly was still stealing the hearts of most of the girls in my school. However, as a few more years progressed Justin’s music started doing the talking and as I’m sure is the case for many 2015 was the year I started to warm to the singer. A string of classics including Where Are Ü Now, Sorry, What Do You Mean and Love Yourself meant that Bieber rocketed from a poster boy for teenage girls to someone that it was becoming impossible not to like. Personality aside you couldn’t ignore just how good this period of music was for the Biebs, and this level is one he has kept up for the last five years. Whilst maybe deterring some of the hardcore and original Beliebers his move closer to hip hop only strengthened my appreciation for the artist, and finally, ended a period where I had to pretend like I didn’t have his music littered throughout my playlists. One of his most recent songs Holy with one of my favourite artists Chance the Rapper was in my opinion possibly his best release yet. So, am I now a full on Belieber or does he still class as a guilty pleasure?
His new release Lonely answers that question for me, and for many reasons.
First of all, I like it. It carries on the long chain of consistent classics that have been released by Justin and follows in a similar tone to Holy. The simplicity of the chords at the start sounding like they are being recorded from a Casio keyboard in the 80s sets the melancholic and reflective mood and instantly makes us aware that what we are about to hear is to be taken seriously. When Justin’s voice does enter it sounds suddenly grown up, a notch or two lower than what we are used to and filled with sorrow and suffering. The melody too is beautiful, , the simplistic piano backing means that there is little distraction from Bieber’s voice and this allows him to take center stage with his vocal, showing off his range and emotive expression. Whilst being relatively short at around two and a half minutes the song is packed full of feeling, and not just in the lyrical content (which I’ll get to later) but in the melody, for example the world ‘lonely’ in the chorus is sustained with a movement between two notes, which as I describe it doesn’t sound particularly special but is sung with such exquisite execution that it almost gives an impression of someone’s voice breaking up or wobbling as often happens when upset or about to cry. Whether this is intentional or just my over analytical interpretation I’m not sure, but it’s beautiful and matches the sentiment throughout.
Ok so I like the song, but is that enough to wipe the memories of the spoiled and rich Bieber or the kid in the bowling alley stealing the hearts of all of my childhood crushes? Well actually yes. Not because it is a great song, that is not enough to make me forget as Holy, What Do You Mean or Love Yourself never did before, but because of the lyrical content. I’m sure many reading this have memories of news stories or clips online released of a pubescent Bieber hitting out at fans whilst being pushed into a car by bodyguards; or read tabloid stories about the young star not turning up to scheduled gigs for various reasons. It seemed like for a long time everybody loved to hate this young man, and as a jealous teenager watching on from the outskirts with £5.23 in my piggy bank, spots on my face and homework coming out of my ears I was just as guilty. People ate up these kinds of stories and that’s why they became regular features, everybody was desperate to push Bieber to his limit and watch him breakdown as Britney did before him. Well in this song Bieber addresses these times and having never considered it from the other side it really is a sober reality. The lyrics in the chorus “cos I’ve had everything but no one’s listening” really show the other side of the narrative. Sure, looking at a young heart throb with a load of money it may seem that he does have everything, but what does he think? Too often we see popstars becoming products of the industry, shipped around like trained seals and utilised for our amusement, their lives and hardships published on the front page for our general morning reading; but what about the people behind the name? This song really is a harsh reminder that there are real people and real feelings behind these celebrities and the “no one’s listening” lyric stands to show us that as a society we don’t acknowledge these people enough, often ignoring their mental health in favour of keeping the money-making machine turning. Lyrics such as ‘everybody saw me sick and it felt like no one gave a shit, they criticised the things I did as an idiot kid’ offer further powerful perspectives. I actually felt guilty listening, remembering times I would smirk at instances in the paper involving Bieber or sharing memes about him on the internet during this period. Why were we so harsh and quick to judge when it was clear that something wasn’t right? It didn’t seem to occur to any of us at the time as we watched Bieber lashing out that maybe there was a struggle going on, all we saw was a headline and a spoiled celebrity. The line about being an idiot kid further hammers this guilt home, who can honestly say they didn’t do anything stupid as a kid? With no life judgment and a poor grasp of consequentialism we are all prone to a bad call or two, right? Now consider that every wrong decision and lapse of judgment you ever had as a youngster came along with weeks of being lambasted in the press, being judged by people you’ve never met and feeling like you’ve let millions of people down? I’m not saying that makes everything that he ever did ok, but I’m saying maybe we should have cut him some slack.
So to continue my pattern of changing my mind about Bieber I am now a fully fledged fan. Whilst being an admirer of most of the music he was releasing for a long time I always had my reservations, hung up on the actions of a young, naïve and potentially unwell boy under the oftentimes fatal spotlight of the media. This song changed that for me. As well as being another great tune to add to the ever-growing list it gave me a new perspective of the man behind the name, and allowed me to step in the shoes and feel the struggles for just a minute or two. Whilst I listened, I thought back to some of the mistakes I have made as a young man and considered my life if everyone I ever met knew about every single one of them, if people I’d never met judged me based on them and if I was constantly reminded of them wherever I went. Now, instead of thinking back to a spoiled rich kid, I sympathise with a young man who was given no sympathy and try to comprehend how the burden of the burning spotlight must feel. This song has made me completely reassess how I feel not only about this artist, but about all artists; and if that isn’t powerful music, I don’t know what is.